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Tangled whale came to downtown waterfront looking for help, rescuer says

Barry O'Neil and Nathaniel Denton help free a whale from a fishing net in Digby, N.S., on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Dallas Kenley
July 22, 2016 - 8:30 AM

DIGBY, N.S. - A Digby, N.S., man who helped free a whale from a fishing net said he's convinced it came to the downtown waterfront looking for help.

Barry O'Neil was doing fibreglass work on a boat around noon Wednesday when Dallas Kenley, one of two men working with him, called out.

"He was under the boat, and he kept yelling, 'Come look at this, you won't believe it.'"

O'Neil and Nathaniel Denton rushed over to see a six-metre minke whale, burdened by about nine kilograms of net tangled in its nose and mouth.

"He was laying sideways, not moving much at all," said O'Neil.

Without a pause, the trio went to work freeing the whale. O'Neil jumped into the waist-deep water; it started to swim away, but he gently grabbed the net and pulled it in, he said.

He pulled its nose out of the water and saw that the rope had really dug in. It had clearly been there for some time, and kelp had been growing on it.

"He ... was as gentle as a kitten. It was just like it came there for help," said O'Neil.

"It calmed right down. We just kept petting it. It seemed to know what we were doing, it was looking for help."

He took out a jackknife to cut it free. It took a bit of work, but the whale waited patiently for about five minutes. O'Neil said he figures the whale hadn't been able to eat very much.

"He seemed to be pretty relieved. We put his nose back in the water and he was in no hurry to get away. He took his time. We watched him swim away, nice and calm."

Cutting the rope had turned the water red with blood, but the bleeding had stopped by the time the whale headed to sea, said O'Neil.

The trio returned to work, but posted photos of the rescue on Facebook lest family members were skeptical about their whale story.

O'Neil said they learned later that fishermen had for about a week been reporting sightings of a distressed whale in the area.

"It was pretty surreal — it was like that whale knew totally what we were doing," said O'Neil.

"It's amazing what damage a net can do to an animal like that."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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